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Right Triangle Trigonometry

Trigonometry is a branch of mathematics involving the study of triangles, and has applications in
fields such as engineering, surveying, navigation, optics, and electronics. Also the ability to use
and manipulate trigonometric functions is necessary in other branches of mathematics, including
calculus, vectors and complex numbers.

Right-angled Triangles

In a right-angled triangle the three sides are given special names.

The side opposite the right angle is called the hypotenuse (h) – this is always the longest side
of the triangle.

The other two sides are named in relation to another known angle (or an unknown angle under
consideration).

If this angle is known or

under consideration h this side is called
the opposite side
because it is opposite
θ the angle

This side is called the adjacent side

because it is adjacent to or near the angle

Trigonometric Ratios

opposite side length o adjacent side length a

sin θ = = cosineθ = =
hypotenuse length h hypotenuse length h

opposite side length o

tangentθ = = where θ is the angle as shown
adjacent side length a

These ratios are abbreviated to sinθ, cosθ, and tanθ respectively. A useful memory aid is Soh
Cah Toa pronounced ‘so-car-tow-a’

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Unknown sides and angles in right angled triangles can be found using these ratios.
Examples
Find the value of the indicated unknown (side length or angle) in each of the following diagrams.
(1)
Method
1. Determine which ratio to use.
2. Write the relevant equation.
b 3. Substitute values from given information.
4. Solve the equation for the unknown.
27o

42
In this problem we have an angle, the opposite side and the adjacent side.
The ratio that relates these two sides is the tangent ratio.

opposite side
tan θ =

Substitute in the equation: (opposite side = b, adjacent side = 42, and θ = 27o)

b
tan 27° = transpose to give
42
b = 42 × tan 27°
b = 21.4

(2)
θ In this triangle we know two sides and need to
find the angle θ.

The known sides are the opposite side and the

13.4 cm
hypotenuse.
19.7 cm
The ratio that relates the opposite side and the
hypotenuse is the sine ratio.

opposite side
sin θ =
hypotenuse
13.4
sin θ = opposite side = 13.4cm. hypotenuse = 19.7cm.
19.7
sin θ = 0.6082

This means we need the angle whose sine is 0.6082, or sin −1 0.6082 from the calculator.
∴ θ = 42.90

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Pythagoras’ Thoerem

Pythagoras’ Theorem states that in a right angled triangle the square of the length of the
hypotenuse side (h), is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

2 2 2
h = a + b
h
b

Pythagoras’ Theorem can be used to find a side length of a right angled triangle given the other
two side lengths

Example 1
find the value of h
Pythagoras’
2
h =6 +8 2 2 Theorem for
this triangle
∴ h 2 = 36 + 64
∴ h 2 = 100
h
6 cm ∴ h = 10 square root
of 100

8 cm
Note
Measurements must be in the same units and the unknown length will be in these same units -
so h will be 10 cm

Example 2 find the value of x

4.2 2 = 2.7 2 + x 2
x ∴17.64 = 7.29 + x 2
2.7 ∴10.35 = x 2
∴ x = 3.22
4.2

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Exercise
Find the value of the indicated unknown (side length or angle) in each of the following diagrams.

(a) (b)

35o 4.71 mm
a
14 cm
62o

(c) (d)
4.8 cm
θ

z 6.2 cm 6.5
20.2

(e) (f)

500
b

a 34
27o
42

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Special angles and exact values

There are some special angles that enable us to obtain exact solutions for the functions sin, cos
and tan.
If we take the two triangles below, and apply the basic trigonometry rules for sine, cosine and
tangent –

sine = cosine = hypotenuse
hypotenuse

45o
60o

2 2
1 1

30o
3 45o
1

From these two triangles, exact answers for sine, cosine and tangent of the angles 30o, 45o and
60o can be found.

1 1
sin 45 o = , cos 45 o = , tan 45 o = 1
2 2
3 1
sin 60o = , cos 60o = , tan 60o = 3
2 2
1 3 1
sin 30 o = , cos 30 o = , tan 30 o =
2 2 3